Real estate agents and on-the-job safety

It is probably surprising to most Manitobans that REALTORS®, especially, but not exclusively, women, are susceptible to becoming victims of crimes during the course of their business activities. It’s a message that was reinforced by a recent announcement that Winnipeg police were re-opening a cold case dating back to 1979. But since that time, there have been too many other incidents involving assaults on Realtors. The Surrey Leader reported in May that a man attacked a woman during a property showing on the weekend. She was sexually assaulted in North Surrey while holding an open house. The woman was able to fight off the unknown attacker. The man then fled.

A U.S. magazine dedicated to Realtors recently released a long lists of real estate agents who have been killed while on the job. Many more have been beaten, raped or robbed. Real estate agents, who invariably show homes and host open houses by themselves, are relatively easy targets for anyone bent upon doing them harm, regardless of how cautious the agents are — and they do take many precautions. WinnipegREALTORS® last month began its Checkmate Professional Safety App. The app is not designed to replace safety precautions all Realtors are taught, but to provide an emergency response when an unforeseen situation arises.

In 2010, Joseph Davis, 41, lured a Winnipeg Realtor to his West Kildonan apartment on the pretext that she would be writing an offer to purchase a home on his behalf. According to testimony during his trial, Davis assured the woman he had secured financing and was prepared to complete the deal. But Davis was lying. He hadn’t even given his real name. Instead, Davis used the bogus name “Tom Collins.”

In court, it was revealed that the woman was not the first real estate agent to be approached by Davis. Evidence was presented during the trial that he had targeted other agents prior to the sexual assault of the woman at his apartment.

During the so-called business meeting, she alleged that Davis grabbed her crotch.

“It was shocking to me,” she told the court. “I knew I was about to get hurt unless I did something. I had to get out of there.”

Despite her panic, the woman was focused enough to use the pen she still had in her hand to stab Davis in the chest. When it struck Davis, the pen broke. Without a weapon available to keep her assailant at bay, she then used her hands to grab his glasses, also breaking them. She hoped he would be unable to see as she fled toward the front door. In the meantime, Davis followed her, muttering apologies. She finally got outside, jumped into her car and drove away. She called a friend, and then the police.

Police executed a search warrant and on the hard drive of Davis’ computer found that he had been conducting on-line searches for images of sexual assault against real estate agents. Other evidence presented in court showed he was looking through Winnipeg property listings seeking a victim and location to perpetrate his crime.

The cold case involving the murder of a real estate agent recently re-opened by Winnipeg police involves this incident:  On Friday, November 16, 1979, the body of 31-year-old Irene Emily Pearson was found in the basement of a vacant home for sale in Tyndall Park on Kinver Avenue, near Keewatin Street and Inkster Boulevard. Pearson had been a salesperson for Castlewood Homes, which owned the property.

The night before she had been working alone in the company’s show home across the street. Her body was found by company maintenance workers at 8:30 a.m. the next morning. Pearson had been hit over the head several times with a blunt instrument and then stabbed repeatedly in the chest.

Police found a note taped to the door of the show home she had been working in, saying, “Back in 10 minutes.” The TV was still on, Pearson’s purse was underneath a side table, her cigarettes were on a coffee table and a pocketbook was splayed out on the couch. Police  believe she was unconcerned about leaving the house unlocked because of what was found in such casual disarray. They also believe she probably knew her assailant or the attacker had been a prospective client who had arrived at the show house and was escorted by her to the other show house across the street where she was murdered.

A prospective client, who was interviewed by police and later dismissed as a suspect, made a previous appointment with Pearson, saw the note on the door and left, as did a fellow real estate agent who dropped by about 8:20 on that Thursday evening. Two neighbourhood youth at about 6:30 p.m. were the last to see her alive. From further evidence given, police surmised Pearson had been killed about 7 p.m. the day before her body was found.

In a press release re-opening the investigation, the Winnipeg police department indicated it was a strong possibility that Irene Pearson was showing the home to someone she believed to be a potential client at the time of her death.

Although at the time this was a newer housing development, it is believed that someone may have observed something in and around the time of Pearson’s death. 

Investigators believe that one of the last people to be in that house with the victim drove either a red or blue newer model Plymouth Volare. Since Pearson’s death, there have been significant advances in DNA technology. Investigators would like to hear from anyone that may have worked on the construction of the home located on Kinver Avenue.

This horrific incident in November 1979 shocked the citizens of Winnipeg. It continues to be a priority for the Winnipeg Police Service, over 36 years later.

Anyone with further information regarding this on-going investigation is asked to contact the Historical Homicide Unit at 204-986-3819 or Crime Stoppers at 204-786-TIPS (8477).

In another Canadian case, Victoria real estate agent Lindsay Buziak, 24, was stabbed to death on February 2, 2008, in a home she was showing to prospective clients. Her family has offered a $100,000 reward to find her killer, but the case remains unsolved.

The Winnipeg woman attacked by Davis, testified she had her suspicions about the man at first, but after taking him to several residences ignored her instincts. In court, Davis claimed his intent was not to perpetrate a sexual assault, but initiate a real estate scam. He said he had accidentally grabbed the woman while she was in the dark doorway of the apartment. When convicting Davis for sexual assault, Queen’s Bench Justice Chris Martin said the man’s explanation of what occurred was not believable. “The entire scenario was a set-up,” said Martin, adding that Davis’ intent all along was to commit a sexual assault. On the other hand, the justice believed the woman’s testimony: “He attacked me. There can be no other reason for how this happened.”

The Checkmate app is another needed tool in the arsenal of agents to ensure their safety while serving the public.